During the month of November, when traveling for admissions wore me down to a nub of a human being, I ceased trying to keep track of daily runs because it meant nothing. If you’ve ever run a race where you just didn’t “have it” that day, and the last couple miles were awful, you know how it feels to wander through the final stages of a work commitment with little support or sense of purpose.
“I’m at least maintaining my health,” I wrote, “At most I’m keeping in contact with the sport of running by what I do. It’s maturing.”
Then to top it off, the flu struck. I was out of action for two solid days. Then I hustled back to my folks house in St. Charles (whoopee, another trip to Chicago!) and managed to run 26 miles that week and “partied with the boys” on December 26.
Life was turning corners in a number of ways. “(She) and I are talking about scads of uncertainties,” I wrote. “She is scheduled to begin work in January in Minnesota. I guess that means I’ll be working my butt off just to keep from getting lonely. Oh, the faith will have to be strong. The work will have to be done. I do hope we make it––together.”
At home in St. Charles, I greeted 1980 with a birding hike to my favorite preserve and found a northern shrike along with other winter birds. But I had not given up the idea of gaining some kind of running shape as we turned to the corner to 1980 and a new decade.
“This program would put you into 9:30 two-mile shape by March 10 if done diligently. The middle range mileage totals will probably produce the best results. Everything should be done with the job and painting in mind. Stay healthy. Also stay on top of things.”
I also wrote out some larger goals for the year:
1. Win Iowa Duck Stamp Contest.
2. Marry her.
3. Begin Graduate Work.
4. Save $3,000
5. Run over 2500 miles.
Those goals illustrate the age-old challenge of engaging in diversity versus finding purpose through focus. With so many interests, I was perpetually shifting from one goal to another. Going into my senior year in college, I recognized that I’d have to give up some things to run my best that fall. I had a talisman necklace made from the claw of a red-tailed hawk that I’d found beside the road that summer. It symbolized my will to get back to serious painting after that fall of absolute focus on running.
“God, I hope I win the Iowa Duck Stamp Contest,” I wrote on January 14 1980. “What it might mean I don’t know. I just want to win it. Possibly to get it over with.”
“I don’t want to be famous,” I continued. “I want to be good. I don’t want people by the hundreds to know me just to say they do. I want the important people who know what art and feeling is to say, ‘That Chris Cudworth, he’s worked well and hard at what he does and he does it fine.’ Fine. What a word.”
The mid-January blues were nailing me after an intense cold spell with wind-chill factors of -40 below. Then the weather turned. “It’s warm out today. 35 degrees. Not January weather. My mind has been talked into spring. My body is alive but tense. Nearly sleepless but never dreamless. Poems run through my head like used-up bits of recording tape. Like those fractured porno movies I found on the railroad tracks when I was fourteen. They move me but I squint to find their meaning, and what is ultimately perverted, the film? No, my senses.”
A few days later I followed up with this: “The hardest thing in the world is to figure out how complex you are. I understand the thinking of centuries-old masters and contemporary bestsellers. But how does my own thinking measure up? How calculating can one be and still be contemplative? What destroys which? Maybe I shouldn’t look for reasons, but the book tells you to look for motivation, and what is better than a good reason to do something, as a motivator? I’m just going to do my version of the best, using my good judgment and never give up. I love my poetry. I love my painting. I love Her. I love my parents. I even love my job. I’m a lucky man.”
With all the supposedly deep thinking I was doing, I felt adrift without the steady presence of the woman I loved. “I miss her companionship,” I wrote. “The goofing around. I get a lot done but I want one to share it with.”
On February 1st, I hit some sort of emotional wall. “Today I was driven wiry at work. What it was I’m not sure. Maybe my hyper session with myself at lunch. After a long run with Doug Nelson (a Luther runner), I felt calm inside. I think I was lonely. Then I got a call from her, depressed for the second night in a row. I guess I’ve been relying on her for optimism.”
Then her folks stopped by my Decorah apartment to gather stuff she’d stored with me. They were taking it up to her place in Richfield, MN. As we carried her furniture out to their U-Haul, they offered me cursory pleasantries at best. Perhaps they were still mad at me for the car crash back in October when she’d almost broken her nose on the dashboard of that cursed Chevy Monza. Whatever their attitude, I was glad when they left. That’s never a good sign.
On February 3, I was preparing to go on the road again for Admissions, but sensed that a tectonic fracture was forming on the relationship side. “I wish she would call and let me know how she is. She wasn’t fair telling me she wants to quit all that…her parents probably had it out with her. Oh well, I must put it all out of mind while I work this week.”
That next weekend I got back from Chicago and drove up to Minneapolis on Saturday. “The weekend was intimate and precious,” I wrote. “We light each other’s fire again.” But I also noted that a former Luther teammate living in Minneapolis had his eyes on her, and I observed, “How odd.”
But it wasn’t really. He was already successful in his job. That’s mostly what she and her parents wanted for her in a man. Yet here I was, schlepping around the state of Illinois as an Admissions Counselor. Were they right in claiming that I had no ambition? In the moment, I wrote, “I am giving her total freedom within the norms of any 1 1/2 year relationship. She loses sight of me quickly.”
In other words, I wasn’t a rube. I was looking ahead. Thinking about graduate school again. Or whatever comes next. But life on the road was a killer. I knew that my cohorts in Admissions were also traveling, some of them going considerable distances into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and across Iowa. But the 250 miles I drove just to get to my territory––and driving back again on Friday––was kicking my ass.
Two days later I lamented, “Here I sit in LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, with no radio and a rotten B&W TV. A Motel 6 day. I rambled across Western Illinois from Rock Island to Galesburg, Lacon, Wenona to L-P. I’ll never stay at one of these joints again.”
I had some history with the Motel 6 chain. During a multiple-day track meet in the Quad Cities my junior year at Luther, none of our rooms ever received new towels. We were left trying to dry off after showers using soaking wet rags. On the last day of the trip, one of our teammates got so disgusted and angry with the lack of towel service, he pried open the bedframe, took a shit inside, and nailed it back shut. Then we closed the door and left. “Serves them right,” someone said. And we laughed.
As college kids, all had a propensity for expressing disgust and frustration with life in graphic ways. Our pre-race chant before college races went like this: “B-F-S, B-F-S, Bull Fucking Shit!” That was our way of sending any of life’s bullshit back where it came from before going out to do something pure and clean like running as hard as we could.
As I drove back from that second week on the road I felt like yelling the BFS chant out the window of my car. I was starting to realize that even some of the things in which I truly believed were turning out to be bullshit. The relationship, for one thing. My idealistic vision of Luther College, for another. I was naive to the world in many ways, but in some respects, I saw through bullshit like no one else in the world.
So I kept on rolling, and at some point, the college purchased a sweet little fleet of Dodge Omni vehicles for the Luther Admissions staff. Mine was blue. It had a decent radio and got great gas mileage. At least if I was going to drive all over Hell’s Acres recruiting kids for Luther, I could now trust the car I was driving to get me there.
As for that Chevy Monza that I was forced to drive the first half of the year? May it rest in 1970s Vehicle Hell for all of eternity. That was BFS.